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Review: Four Holidays, Quarantine, High School Musical- Senior Year and Suddenly

By Cinema and Reviews

Dollar for dol­lar (if not lb for lb) Vince Vaughan is the biggest star in Hollywood. For every dol­lar inves­ted in a Vaughan film he returns four­teen mak­ing him a bet­ter bet than Cruise, Pitt, Clooney or Roberts. It’s easy to see why he’s so pop­u­lar – his easy-going every­man qual­ity annoys few­er people than Carrey and choices like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers are pretty safe. Even last year’s Fred Claus was a rare watch­able Christmas film and this year he repeats the dose with Four Holidays (aka Four Christmases).

Vaughan, and co-star Reese Witherspoon, are DINKs (double-income-no-kids) who main­tain their cool life­style by avoid­ing their respect­ive fam­il­ies like the plague. When an unex­pec­ted air­port clos­ure reveals their plans to party in Fiji instead of feed­ing the third world, they are obliged to make four dif­fer­ent vis­its on Christmas Day, for­cing them to con­front the weirdos, sad­sacks and ding­bats that make up their respect­ive families.

I think I’m out of step with most oth­er crit­ics (not unusu­al and not a bad thing) but I enjoyed myself watch­ing Four Holidays – Vaughan and Witherspoon actu­ally make a believ­able couple and the sup­port­ing cast (includ­ing fine act­ors like Robert Duvall and Kristin Chenoweth along with coun­try stars Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw) has plenty of energy.

Ten years ago, before he became the darling of the Hollywood Hedge Fund set, Vaughan’s career nearly stalled when he played Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised frame-for-frame remake of Psycho. After the see­ing the trail­er for Quarantine, I was half expect­ing it to give a sim­il­ar treat­ment to the Spanish shock­er [REC] (which promp­ted messy evac­u­ations earli­er in the year) but hap­pily it diverges enough to mer­it its own review.

A tv crew is fol­low­ing an LA fire depart­ment for the night when they are sent to an apart­ment build­ing where mys­ter­i­ous screams are eman­at­ing from one of the flats. Soon after they arrive, the author­it­ies shut the build­ing down to pre­vent the rabies-like infec­tion from spread­ing, leav­ing the res­id­ents, fire-fighters and the media to their own devices.

Stronger in char­ac­ter devel­op­ment but slightly weak­er in shock value, Quarantine will be worth a look if you found you couldn’t read the sub­titles in [REC] because you had your hands over your eyes.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is the first of the legendary Disney fran­chise to make it to the big screen but the for­mula hasn’t changed one bit. Well scrubbed High School kids in Albuquerque put on a show which might send one of them to Julliard. The music runs the full gamut of cur­rent pop music styles from Britney to the Backstreet Boys (without the spark of either) and the kids dis­play a full range of emo­tions from A to B. HSM is betrayed by a lack of ambi­tion mar­ried to relent­less, obsess­ive, com­mit­ment to com­pet­ence but, at almost two hours, I sus­pect it will be too long for most tween blad­ders to hold out.

Depression is a chal­len­ging top­ic for film (the symp­toms are un-cinematic and recov­ery often takes the form of baby steps which are dif­fi­cult to dram­at­ise) but Swedish drama Suddenly makes a decent fist of it. Nine months after the car he was driv­ing crashed, tak­ing the lives of his wife and young­est son, eye doc­tor Lasse (Michael Nyqvist) is fall­ing apart. After what looks like a failed sui­cide attempt, his par­ents advise him to take his remain­ing son (sens­it­ive 15 year old Jonas played by Anastasios Soulis) to his hol­i­day house for the Summer to see if he can take one last chance to heal him­self and the family.

Lasse throws him­self into repair­ing the beaten up old row­boat while Jonas falls for the (entirely Swedish look­ing blonde) loc­al black sheep Helena (Moa Gammel). Despite the appar­ent energy of the title, Suddenly takes its time get­ting any­where but rewards perseverance.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 10 December, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I’m stoked to report that Suddenly was the first film I’d seen in the Vogue Lounge at the Penthouse since my dis­ap­point­ing exper­i­ence with Smart People back in August and, des­pite some print wear, the present­a­tion was per­fect. Well done Penthouse.

Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Fred Claus, The Golden Door and Mr. Brooks

By Cinema and Reviews

Elizabeth The Golden age posterAbout a third of the way through Elizabeth The Golden Age, hand­some pir­ate Walter Raleigh arrives at Court bring­ing his Queen gifts from the New World: pota­toes in a box of soil and tobacco (bring­ing to mind that won­der­ful Bob Newhart routine: “Then what do you do, Walt? ha! ha! ha!… You set fire to it!”) But what Raleigh (played by Clive Owen with an old-fashioned movie star cool that he has­n’t mustered before) is really offer­ing Elizabeth is the future; a future of gun­powder, inter­na­tion­al trade, sci­ence and empire. And for anoth­er 400 years Britannia will rule the waves.

Unlike some, I can­’t com­ment too much on the his­tor­ic­al accur­acy of the film – it seemed pretty close to how I remem­ber study­ing it as an eight year old – but abso­lute accur­acy does­n’t seem to be the point. The por­trait of a woman who has to become an icon (super-human and at the same time less than human) in order to pre­serve her people is ripe for a melo­dra­mat­ic Hollywood telling and dir­ect­or Shekhar Kapur and star Cate Blanchett don’t let us down.

This film is a sequel, of course, to the remark­ably suc­cess­ful Elizabeth that launched Blanchett nearly ten years ago. That suc­cess means a big­ger budget this time around – hun­dreds more extras, flash­er sets and a rip-roaring mari­time set-piece – but it is the supremely con­trolled Blanchett that dom­in­ates. As we rejoin the story her pos­i­tion is still insec­ure: chal­lenged from the North by half-sister Mary Queen of Scots and from the South by Philip of Spain, the tussle is between Catholic super­sti­tion (and medi­ev­al bru­tal­ity) and the enlightened reli­gious tol­er­ance that would allow an Empire to flour­ish. No won­der some Catholics aren’t happy with this ver­sion of history…

Fred Claus posterFingers crossed that this year we’ll only get one fat, jolly, red-faced Santa movie after last year’s woe­ful bunch: but if we have to have one I’m pleased to report that Fred Claus isn’t too embar­rass­ing. A fine cast, includ­ing Kevin Spacey and Miranda Richardson, have been gathered to tell the story of Santa’s big broth­er (Vince Vaughan) who left home in a sulk many years ago and is now a cyn­ic­al repo man in Chicago.

Meanwhile Santa (Paul Giamatti) is stressed out as more and more kids are ask­ing for more and more presents (not like the old days when one present per kid was enough). When Fred needs to be bailed out of chokey, Santa sees a chance to bring the fam­ily back togeth­er and get some extra help at the North Pole. The tone of the film is pretty ran­dom and the humour is hit and miss but Giamatti’s per­form­ance as Santa is so fine that, if he rolled it out in any oth­er film, we’d be talk­ing about award nom­in­a­tions. Seriously.

Golden Door posterDiaspora and mass dis­lo­ca­tion is the great story of the mod­ern age – from the Irish flee­ing the potato fam­ine to the mil­lions in Africa dis­placed by war or gen­o­cide. It’s no pic­nic abandon­ing your home and everything you know for the hint of a bet­ter life – ask your taxi driver – and Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door plays as a worthy trib­ute to all those who have ever taken that risk. His film fol­lows a turn of the (last) cen­tury Sicilian fam­ily escap­ing the grind­ing poverty of their island in the hope of get­ting to Walter Raleigh’s New World where money grows on trees and there are rivers of milk. Once there, they exchange one island for anoth­er (Ellis) where they are prod­ded and tested before being found worthy of America. Crialese’s eye for an arrest­ing image and a lovely per­form­ance from lead Vincenzo Amato make Golden Door one of the unsung art-house films of the year.

Mr Brooks posterMr. Brooks is an odd fish – the film and the char­ac­ter. Kevin Costner plays suc­cess­ful self-made busi­ness­man Earl Brooks; he’s Portland’s Man of the Year but he has a secret. Not only is he a demen­ted serial-killer but he has an ima­gin­ary friend (William Hurt) who sits in the back seat of his car get­ting him in to trouble so its a bit like a grown-up ver­sion of Drop Dead Fred. Costner’s tend­ency to under­play everything means we nev­er get a real sense of the tor­ment under the button-down façade but at least he is con­sist­ently inter­est­ing, unlike the sub-plot involving the cop chas­ing him (Demi Moore) and her divorce.

For space reas­ons, only the Elizabeth seg­ment of this review was prin­ted in the Capital Times, Wednesday 21 November, 2007. For some reas­on they then prin­ted a ver­sion of it again in the Films of the Week sec­tion at the back of the book, instead of some more of my gor­geous prose. I love them like fam­ily, and am intensely grate­ful for the oppor­tun­ity to do this in front of an audi­ence, but would like to point out that I don’t have any­thing to do with the strangely edited  “Films of the Week” apart from provid­ing the raw material.